Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 2, 2001 - Issue 37



Graduates Make History


Two women are first to earn master's degrees in education


by Sasheen Hollow Horn The Navajo Times

TSAILE, Ariz. (May 18, 2001) - Ruth Marie Retasket and Della A. Begay made history last week as the first graduates to earn master's degrees at Diné College.

Thanks to a collaborative project between Arizona State University and the college's Center for Diné Teacher Education, the two women achieved master's of education degrees in curriculum and instruction from ASU.

Towards the end of a ceremony that lasted most of Friday morning and saw 181 students from the college's seven campuses graduate, the gymnasium swelled with applause that turned into a standing ovation as Retasket was introduced and received her diploma.

Later, surrounded by family and friends and still breathless from answering well-wishers, Retasket said that she didn't know how to feel.

"All I can say is I did it," she said. "I put in my time and a lot of sacrifices. It was a lot of work but it was worth it, worth my time, worth my students' time. It's exciting."

Originally from Shonto, Ariz., Retasket taught at Chinle Elementary before going back to school, with the encouragement of Principal Jan Reed, to fulfill a promise she made to her father.

He had passed away three years ago and because he didn't go to school, he felt that it was important that she stay and finish, Retasket said.

Which is just what she did, but not without qualms. Though it caused hardship on her family - husband Mark and their three sons - it was another step, she said.

And now that that's over?

"It's kind of iffy right now," she said. "The program I'm under asked me to go on to get my doctorate but I want to put my family back first. They've been on the side a long time, while I got my bachelor's and my master's."

Begay, from Kirtland, N.M., was unable to attend the college's graduation ceremony on Friday due to a family emergency.

A member of the Teacher Education Program Advisory Council, Begay worked part-time at Nenahnezad School while completing the program's research requirements.

The center also graduated nine students in the bachelor's degree program in elementary education, all with honors.

Amelia Begay, Caroleen Damon-Frank, Shirley Herder and Sylvia Jackson graduated summa cum laude (grade point average 3.80-4.00); Geraldine Carroll-Garrity, Marquita Gishal, Justina Jones and Ernest Shay graduated magna cum laude (GPA 3.60-3.79); and Bryan A. Begay graduated cum laude (GPA 3.40-3.59).

The center houses the college's only baccalaureate program and is located on the sixth floor of the cultural center on the Tsaile campus. The college is one of only six tribal colleges and universities in the U.S. - out of 30 - to have BA programs.

The undergraduate program is intended to develop K-8 Navajo teachers who

promote Navajo philosophy, culture, history, language and literacy.

Students - some of whom enter not knowing how to speak Navajo, let alone read and write it - graduate with a knowledge of the culture, with which they are able to integrate mainstream knowledge and teach in schools that serve Navajo communities.

The college has had an associates of arts program in elementary education since the 1970's. Both the bachelor's and master's programs are in collaboration with ASU, but the college is working towards accreditation for both on its own, said acting director Daniel McLaughlin.

"It's a long, hard struggle, but that's our aim," he said.

The college first tried to get the BA program accredited in 1994, but was turned down because it didn't have enough library books or faculty, and had numerous safety and facility needs.

Rather than waiting years to be accredited, the program developed partnership proposals with ASU and Northern Arizona University, electing to go with ASU. The doors opened for the first BA class in the fall of 1996.

"ASU is a wonderful partner," McLaughlin said. "They've allowed us to offer the kinds of programs that make us what we are. They are completely behind the idea of Navajo bilingual education. But we've been building since (1994). We hope (the college's accreditation) will go up in the not too distant future."

Concluding its fourth year of operation, the program has graduated a total of 38 students from the baccalaureate program. Twelve seniors and 15 juniors are currently pursuing BA degrees, and 20 students are enrolled in the ME program.

"Our dream is to have diplomas written in Navajo from Diné College," McLaughlin said at a reception for the new graduates on Friday. "We're building that capacity."



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